Low-Energy Lighting Helps Agencies Achieve Green Goals

October 1, 2014, Department, by Samantha Bartram

Solar lights line the edge of a trail in Visalia, California. During the day, panels store energy from the sun, which powers the LED lights at night.Here at NRPA, we make a concerted effort to live the pillars that inform our mission: Conservation, Health and Wellness, and Social Equity. Recently, we got a big boost under that first category, as NRPA was awarded the highest rank possible in our local 2014 Green Business Challenge, sponsored by the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce. In short, that means we’ve taken bold steps at headquarters to reduce our energy consumption and implement other “green” initiatives like recycling and carpooling. Soon we’ll learn whether we’ve been deemed the “greenest business in the county,” but even if we don’t achieve that distinction, we’ll still keep on with our conservation practices because we recognize it’s the way of the future, and the right thing to do for our planet. 

Many park and recreation agencies are embracing a similar philosophy and looking for ways to revamp their energy-use practices, and a fairly easy place to start is with lighting. Fitting fixtures with low-energy LED bulbs or solar lighting can dramatically reduce energy consumption, whether inside on the basketball court or outside along our sports fields and running trails. 

Lights to Save Energy

Today, operators have access to vastly better lighting options than the incandescent bulb of old. This goes for a fixture as simple as a desk lamp to one as daunting as a set of stadium lights. Light-emitting diode bulbs, better known as LEDs, have been around for decades, but have enjoyed increased popularity of late. The same goes for solar-powered lights, which use a panel array to capture energy from the sun to power LED bulbs inside a given fixture. Fortunately, both of these options are readily available and far from cost prohibitive. In fact, the savings garnered from increased efficiency can help offset costs associated with refitting existing fixtures. 

“When searching for outdoor lighting products, customers are primarily looking for maintenance savings, energy savings, long life and performance,” says Eric Gibson, value stream manager for Lithonia Lighting. “From a maintenance standpoint, LEDs, coupled with controls, will extend the life of your fixture. This means that there aren’t nearly as many maintenance needs as compared to traditional sources. Customers are particularly looking for energy savings when compared to traditional sources.”

Utilizing solar-powered lighting puts those potential energy savings in even starker contrast. Because the energy to run solar LEDs is snatched right out of the air, there’s no need for the infrastructure required to hook up a traditional light to the grid. Solar requires no hard-wiring, which means it’s also a great solution in areas where traditional lighting is not an option due to cost or location. “A large portion of the cost for traditional lighting requires the utility to bring power to the site and an electrical contractor to install an electrical distribution panel, meter base, control panel, trenching, underground conduit, wire, etc.,” says Matt Ellenberger, vice president of sales and marketing at Sol Inc., which specializes in solar-powered lighting. “All of these things are avoided when solar lighting is chosen.”  

Intelligent light controls are the icing on this efficiency cake — “Many of our outdoor LED products have options to order the product with motion sensors, photocontrols or networked dimming,” Gibson says. “Utilizing lighting control options with outdoor LED lighting not only increases the energy savings of the product, but also extends the life of the fixture, because the LEDs run cooler and the lights aren’t on when they don’t need to be.” Many lighting products arrive with such features built in, and some, like Musco Lighting’s sports lighting packages, include remote control and custom functionalities as well. “In 1999, we introduced our Control-Link system, allowing customers to control their lights with our 24/7 call center, an easy-to-use website and a web-enabled smartphone,” says Jeff Rogers, vice president of developmental sales at Musco. “Through our website, customers are able to view their facility’s energy usage, energy saved by turning lights off before the scheduled time and real-time information on the status of the system.”

Lights to Suit Any Environment

Energy and cost savings are perhaps the greatest motivators of those operators and maintenance personnel choosing LED or solar lighting, but light pollution, durability and aesthetics are also top concerns. Today’s LED lighting choices can address these factors, too, says Joyce Bates, senior marketing specialist with Landscape Forms Inc. “Advances in LED energy efficiency, color and color rendering have made LED lighting a viable solution for outdoor environments,” she says. “Wasted energy and the negative visual and environmental impacts of over-illumination associated with bright white light are driving the adoption of LEDs as an alternative… Most LEDs dim over time — they do not abruptly burn out — allowing scheduled rather than emergency replacement. LEDs are also difficult to damage due to their solid-state construction. They contain no filament or glass and emit no gasses, and unlike fluorescent lights, LEDs do not contain mercury.”

This built-in longevity, coupled with the ease of installation of solar lights, means low-energy lighting can provide a solution for safety concerns along trails or in remote corners of parks. “To quote our founder Alan Hurst, ‘light is life,’” Ellenberger says. “In third-world countries, solar lighting provides a much-needed resource that creates safe environments, allows commerce to flourish and enhances quality of life, for example, by having children be able to read at night. In the United States, ‘light is life’ has a different meaning, but it’s still critical to our day-to-day lives for things like security and safety.”

The Future of Low-Energy Lighting

As demand increases and design of low-energy lighting products improves, Ellenberger estimates that costs associated with switching to such alternatives will decrease in turn. “Sol has used many lighting technologies throughout the years, but LEDs have and will continue to change our business,” he says. “The best thing about LEDs is that there is still a lot of efficiency to be gained. While this will continue to drive the price down for solar lighting, it may also change the appearance in that the solar panels and battery requirements will be much smaller. Thin film solar may change the shape, which will allow for more ‘form’ where historically the product has been more ‘function.’”

As leaders in our communities and advocates of green practices, it makes sense that park and recreation professionals would encourage the switch to greener, low-energy lighting in our agencies and communities at large. As we continue to observe the effects of climate change and ever-fluctuating municipal budgets, embracing low-energy lighting options is one way to mitigate costs, reduce consumption of fossil fuels and act as ambassadors of a small change that has the potential for big impacts. 

Samantha Bartram is the Associate Editor of Parks & Recreation Magazine.



Light It Up

Could some aspect of your park or recreation center use a little brightening up? Then look no further — here, we’ve rounded up some of the top lighting companies offering top-of-the-line lighting products. 

Echelon Corporation 


Ephesus Lighting Inc. 


Landscape Forms 


Lithonia Lighting 


Musco Lighting


Schreder Lighting LLC 


Sol Inc.